Adolescents at the second largest jail in the United States face “a deep-seated culture of violence,” according to a U.S. government study released this week.
The two-year investigation of Rikers Island in New York showed that the prison guards who were unafraid of punishment routinely violated the constitutional rights of male teenage inmates. Routine injuries and abuse by way of "unnecessary and excessive force” were cited in the study, which was released by the office of the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.
Focusing primarily on the three Rikers facilities that hold males aged 16 to 18, the study also revealed that inmates sustained 22 jaw fractures in the first half of 2012 and suffered 239 head injuries between June 2012 and July 2013. However, as noted, "the systemic deficiencies identified in this report may exist in equal measure at the other [seven] jails on Rikers.”
A “code of silence” among workers, an ineffective system for investigating attacks by guards and inefficient management were pointed to as possible contributors toward the abuses, as well as poor training and under-staffing.
In addition to this latest critical revelation, Rikers Island has previously been criticized for its excessive use of solitary confinement, particularly regarding adolescents. While New York announced in February 2014 that it would ban the practice in its prison system, the changes were not applied to Rikers because it is run by the city, not the state.
New York is one of only two states that prosecute offenders age 16 to 18 as adults no matter what the charge.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)